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Another hot tablet from Acer
on June 24, 2012
It looks like Amazon had a limited "early release" so I got my A700 on 6/21 and have had quite a bit of time to play with the device and get a solid feel for what I hoped would be my next tablet. Unfortunately it would appear Acer didn't make any changes to resolve the thermal issues. However, I will go ahead and write a new full review anyways as there are some noteworthy differences and new info. If you read my review of the A510, some of this will look familiar.
The only changes from the A510 to A700 are the new 1080p display, redesigned AC adapter, and some new Acer software modifications to ICS. Everything else is virtually identical. And as noted before, I am comparing this to several other tablets I've owned in the past, including the Acer Iconia A510, ASUS Transformer TF201, Blackberry Playbook, and Toshiba Excite AT305.
Compared to the A510, I immediately noticed a drop in performance. Even when performing basic task such as swiping, looking through apps, and opening programs, it's quite obvious the tablet is working harder to render things on the screen and it's just not quite as fluid as before. Especially while multi-tasking and running processes in the background. I suspect this confirms my original concern that the Tegra3 might have some issues handling the 1080p resolution, which is considerably higher than before.
This could be a combination of not enough CPU/RAM/GPU performance and/or OS/Apps not fully optimized to handle the higher resolution. I played a few high-end games, such as ShadowGun, GTA, Siegecraft, Zen Pinball, and Glowball. The games still looks very good, but I can already notice a slightly lower frame rate here. With the exception of Siegecraft, which was way too slow, the rest were still playable. An update to some titles could help, but once again, this could still be a hardware limitation.
One of the most disappointing features was how poorly it's handling PDF's. One of the biggest advantages of the 1080p display is actually being able to read in portrait mode. Which I certainly can; the text is very clear and legible. Unfortunately scrolling through the pages is annoyingly slow and choppy. I tried several apps with the same results; even some that just change the page versus scrolling to the next one.
Playing videos, surfing the internet, and other related tasks still run as good as they always have on a Tegra3 device. I performed the usual benchmarks, and as I recall, they were right around where the A510 was.
Antutu Benchmark v2.8.2:
Total Score: 10,569
Quadrant Standard: 3,624
CF-Bench v1.2 Overall Score: 11,674
This of course isn't all that relevant in real-world use (especially for 1080p content), but worth noting for those interested.
Out of the box, ICS 4.04 was already installed (vs. 4.03) which really only adds a few minor behind the scene changes such as smoother screen rotation, overall stability, and improved the camera. Acer did modify the task menu by adding in some nifty new shortcuts to turn on/off features such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Notifications, etc. Asus's menu still looks nicer, but it's a welcome addition.
As before, the Acer ring is still present, looking circular as ever. It provides shortcuts to access volume, search, settings, browser, gallery, screenshots, and handy preview of favorite websites to visit. I could live without it, but it's nice to see manufactures adding nice touches to an otherwise plain Android experience.
The ring even extends to the lock screen to quickly access certain applications. Otherwise that's really about it. If you've played with ICS before, this should all be very familiar.
When I first wrote the review of the A510, I had a pretty big issue with the "grid effect." Some don't notice it, while others such as myself can be quite bothered by it. Beyond that, the screen was perfectly acceptable. I went into quite a detailed explanation of this in the A510 review, so I'll focus on the A700 here. Its only limitation was what affects all other lower resolution displays. Smaller text will look blurry and hard to read.
I'm happy to report that the new display resolved all of my previous concerns. The screen is reasonably bright with vivid colors, great viewing angles, nice color balance, and best of all - no grid effect! Unfortunately my screen did have a small amount of light bleed in the bottom right corner. It's nowhere near as bad as the AT305, but it's there. This could be a defect in my unit only, but due to the heat issue, I won't be exchanging it for another one.
This display is certainly not IPS as evidence by the fact that it's not exactly super bright. This isn't helped by the auto-brightness setting which likes defaulting to super-dim, although that's easy enough to turn off. Outdoor viewing could still be an issue for some. The display also has a slightly warmer tint than the A510, but nowhere near the yellowish tint of the TF201. I prefer the balance the AT305 had, which was very neutral. It still looks good and does have the advantage of providing a good color temp for movies.
One last thing to keep in mind is scaling. Any game or application that doesn't support 1080p will require the tablet to scale to the higher res, or "stretch" the image to fill all of the new pixels, which will tend to look slightly blurry or not as "crisp" as it should. Some do a better job than others, but this is the same effect you would notice when watching a low-res video or game on a new high-res computer monitor. Tablets are no exception here. Hopefully most developers will update their games.
Wireless performance is excellent. Other than the TF201, which has well known wireless issues, the A700 is right on par with all of the other tablets I've tested. Bluetooth works just as it should, pairing up to my BT headphones without an issue. GPS is also still excellent. I didn't even have to go outside and I already had 12 satellites detected as noted by the GPS Test application.
There isn't a lot to say about the speakers, but they sound so darn good I felt they deserved their own section. :) There are 2 speakers located at the bottom of the device and they sound fantastic (for a tablet). Compared to the single speaker located on the right/back of the TF201, the A510 blows it away. The AT305 was close, but I still found the A510/700 to have a fuller sound. There are also some Dolby specific settings which add some EQ and sound profiles to play with and make them sound even better.
The only concern is how this will work with certain cases that let you use the tablet in "stand" mode, as they would be blocked. Hopefully case designers take this into consideration, because it would be a shame to block such nice sounding speakers.
Too bad they couldn't put them front facing as they are on the Blackberry Playbook, which also has great speakers. I did notice Samsung is making the change to front facing speakers, so that's a good sign.
The physical build quality is excellent. It has a very solid feel and all the buttons and inputs you'd want. You have your standard front/rear cameras where they normally are. Volume rocker is at the top along with a rotation hold switch. Power is at the left directly above the headphone jack. To the right is the MicroHDMI port. Below this on the right is a flimsy flap covering the MicroSD port and what looks like a dead/blank spot for a SIM card (maybe on a future model). I can already see this flap falling off and/or breaking in the future. Stereo speakers are located on the bottom.
Also on the bottom is the MicroUSB port which also doubles as a proprietary power charger for the device. There is also an included MicroUSB -> USB adapter that lets you connect normal USB devices such as keyboards, mice, game controllers, or even a good `ol USB Flash Drive. Unfortunately due to the higher power requirements of tablets, you can't charge it with your PC USB port or your average MicroUSB power adapters that come with smart phones.
The AC adapter has been slightly redesigned from the A510. The portion that connects to the bottom port is now much smaller and is angled to the left. Since the USB portion is shorter, there shouldn't be any more issues with folks not inserting all the way.
As expected from the spec sheet, the A510 itself is noticeably thicker and heavier than any other tablet I've used. But it's not enough to deter most folks from buying it. In fact, because of its soft-touch backing and added thickness, I found it nicer to hold for extended periods of time. At least until you notice that the right-side of the device is becoming unusually warm.
Battery life is one of the biggest issues with any portable electronic device. Fortunately much if it's added weight and thickness is due to the 9800mAh battery. This is easily one of the longest lasting tablets I've used. The higher res screen is supposed to require a bit more power than the A510, although there wasn't a noticeable drop in life with normal usage. I suspect extended 1080p video/gaming would drain a little more.
I was still able to use it all day long with various tasks such as playing games, surfing, running benchmarks, and installing applications. I was still at 30% by end of the day and still had a bit more to go. Naturally, your results will certainly vary. But it's safe the say you'll get more life than most other Android tablets.
This is where we get back to my biggest issue noted with the first two A510's I went through. This is by far the hottest running tablet I've ever used. The first thing I did was bring out my trusty Mastercool Infrared Thermometer and start taking some measurements while performing various tasks. Just surfing the `net causes the right side to get hot enough to make my hand sweat after a few minutes. The hot area is at the right/back side. The left has never gone above 90 degrees.
While surfing the web, expect about 106 degrees. This is also coincidentally the same temp I noted while sitting idle and charging. Although for all testing, it was on battery power. Downloading and installing apps pushes it closer to 109 degrees. And the highest temp I saw will be a toasty 113 degrees when gaming it up with these awesome Tegra3 titles.
Essentially these are the same exact temps I saw with the A510. This is a big reason I won't be exchanging it for another one and why I'm quite disappointed that Acer didn't bother to address this.
+ Nice 1080p Display.
+ Excellent Dolby stereo speakers
+ Micro USB Port (and full size USB adapter)
+ Solid feel and build quality
+ Plenty of easy to use buttons, ergonomic
+ Wi-Fi and even GPS work extremely well.
+ Improved charging adapter
+ Great battery life
- Quite noticeably heavier and thicker than the current competition.
- No Flash for Camera
- Way too hot
- Sluggish performance
- Minor light bleed*
The two big negatives for me is going to be heat and performance. Both are deal killers for me. Especially the heat issue since this should have been resolved by Acer after seeing all of the negative comments from A510 users. The light-bleed would have also been an automatic exchange, but the other two issues make that rather pointless.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying this is a "bad" tablet. There are a lot of "Pro's" to keep in mind.
The relatively low price of $450 combined with a nice screen and "livable" performance will be all some folks need to see. In particular those who don't mind the heat, which based on some reviews I saw of the A510, there are quite a few. Not to mention we do have to remember this is the 1st 1080p Android tablet to hit the market. Software updates can do wonders when it comes to performance improvements.
So where to go from here? I could wait and see if the faster and higher spec'd Asus TF700 can bring everything together in a solid package. If not, I may simply wait for Microsoft to (hopefully) save the day in a few months. :)